Saturday, September 29, 2012

Muslims in Morocco

Religion has always fascinated me. I have always had the desire to go "religion hopping" and learn about all different kinds of religions and why they believe the things that they believe. Not because I wanted a change from my own beliefs, but because I enjoyed learning about others.' Growing up in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, I didn't get much religious diversity. It is mainly Christian up in CDA, and the most diversity I got was the mix of Catholics, Non-denominational, Protestants, and Christian Scientists. I grew up in the Mormon faith, (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints) which is also a Christian faith. But really, CDA didn't have much else, at least not that I was aware of. 

So going to Morocco and seeing the strong Muslim religion taking place all around me as I was there was fascinating to me. FASCINATING. It was so different to anything that I was accustomed to. The biggest wake up call that I ever got was on our first morning there at 5AM when the first call to prayer went off right outside of our hotel window. I heard it as clear as day. It was a very effective alarm clock and afterwards, I was wide awake. We continued to hear it every morning bright and early at 5AM and there was no off switch to it. 

5 times a day, they have a call to prayer. I know they are speaking in Arabic, but since I don't know the Arabic language, to me it just sounds like a big loud scary noise full of some speaking and some monotone singing/chanting. It freaked me out every time that I heard it but fascinated me at the same time. And even after being in the country for a whole week, I still didn't get used to it. On the last day, the whole thing was still shocking and mind boggling to me. When the "alarm" goes off, you see all the men rushing to the mosques to begin their daily prayers. Such commitment to their faith. 

On the picture below you can see a pole sticking up from the top with a perpendicular crook going out. This is where they hang people when they go against the Muslim religion or when they commit some serious sin. I don't think they use it as much as they used to in the past, but still, it is there. I think it is more as a reminder of what could happen. 

Every time the call to prayer would go off, I would imagine what it would be like if President Monson, the Mormon latter day prophet did a similar thing. Can you imagine him getting on a big loud speaker and telling everyone that it was time to pray? Can you imagine him singing into a big microphone that had a speaker throughout the whole country? Can you imagine him forcing you to pray and having him tell you when to pray and when not to? I can't. Prayer seems like such a personal thing to me that you do when you show thanks or when you humbly ask for blessings. Yes it is good to pray throughout the day, and to always have a prayer in your heart, but I can't imagine doing it on someone else's timetable. I don't think I could ever get used to that.
 Stand up.....
 Squat down.....
 Stand up...

 The 5 times daily prayer ritual is only required for men. It was interesting to watch what the women were doing during this time. Here are some of them. They mostly were hanging out, siting around for their husbands to get done so they could go back home. Interesting I thought. Women are seen so differently than they are in the US. They aren't really worth much in Morocco and don't have authority at all. They are there to please their husbands and to have children. When people would come up to Nate and I, they would always address Nate, not me. It was like I didn't even exist there and wasn't important. They would barely even look at me. Even going through security in the Marrakesh airport, they made two lines, one for males and one for women. No mixing of genders allowed. The women's line was way longer so the men got through much quicker. Fair? Not really, but that is just how it is in Morocco. Feminists wouldn't survive there. 

Kneel down....
And repeat....
for a long, long, long time,
or so it seemed like to me. 
I think so. 

Being in Morocco made me feel so grateful to be an American. I have never appreciated my country as much as after I came home from Morocco. The people there are trapped. They don't have the freedom of speech or freedom of religion laws like Americans do. They have to do what the government and their religion says they will do or else.....they will have a serious punishment.....maybe even being hung. 

We should all be grateful to live in America and to experience the freedoms that we do. 

Monkeys and Snakes and More Monkeys, Oh My!

In Morocco, they have a lot of crazy things that you aren't used to seeing back home. Every time Nate and I would turn our head, we would see something else that was fascinating to us. Sometimes I felt like I was constantly walking around with my mouth open in complete shock and horror and other times in complete amazement. 
The Moroccans like their animals......well, they actually just like their tips. 
Everyone works off of tips there and the unemployment rate is pretty high. They use animals to make money off of tourists and it actually works pretty well for them. All the tourists have to get pictures with the monkeys and the snake charmers. That is a must when traveling to Morocco. Here are some of my favorite pictures from our trip. Even now when I look at them, I can't help but laugh!

Monkey sitting on my arm.
Me wearing the man's hat.
 Monkey giving me a hug....
 Monkey snuggling up with Nate and I.
 Snake Charmers!

Speaking of snakes.....
I bought some awesome snake sandals there. 
They are so comfortable and the cool part is that I saw the guy making them 
right there in his little shoe shop. 
More Monkeys....this time sitting on top of Nate's head!
 Our faces tell it all in this pic. 
 As you can tell, it was a very memorable exciting trip! 
I mean, wear else can you get pictures like these?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sahara Desert Camel Trip

When we booked our tickets to Morocco, one of the main things that we wanted to do was to take a camel ride overnight trip in the Sahara Desert. That sounded so exciting to us so we knew that we needed to make it happen. We got connected with a group that did tours through our hotel. Before the journey, we went shopping in a small tiny town to buy some Berber memorabilia. 

We bought some traditional head wraps!
Don't we look so fashionable!?
We were now ready for our trip. We caught a ride in a taxi down to the camel area. While we were waiting, they offered us some mint tea like everyone always does, but of course we couldn't drink it. We were offered tea at least three times a day and had to turn it down each time. The Moroccan guys taught us how to get on and off the camels with the little English that they spoke. They loaded up all of our bags and sleeping items on the camel that we needed that night. Here is a picture of us before we started our trip.

These poor camels.....they have to carry so much weight! 
They are such weird looking animals and they walk super slow. 
I was in front of Nate and every time I would look back at him, I couldn't help but start laughing. Here we were in Africa, riding camels in the Sahara Desert, wearing these bright colored head wraps. It was kind of unreal, and hilarious, and I had to hold back the laughter. I kept on thinking what would people think if they could see us now!? The journey consisted of me, Nate, our friend that we met earlier in the week from Madrid/Columbia, Eduardo, and our Moroccan tour guide that didn't speak any English. He only spoke French and Arabic. Good thing we had Eduardo there to translate for us, or else we would have had a very VERY awkward night of charades! 
This is us finally landing in the desert about an hour and a half later. Man, my butt and legs were sore! Who knew that a camel could be so uncomfortable. And if you are wondering about my wrapped up toe, I had a major blister on it from the snake shoes that I had bought in Marrakesh and it was getting infected. I wrapped it up really good and tight so I wouldn't get any sand in it to make it even more infected. It is interesting how they would get the camels to sit down. The tour guide would come up to them and just say, "Shhhhh, sshhhh" to them over and over, and then they would lay down so I could get off. They would go from standing, to on their knees, to laying down on their legs. Funny animals. Having them stand up was the scariest part. One time, Nate's camel tripped as he was trying to stand and Nate almost flew off the front of him! 
It was now time for a photo shoot in our Moroccan attire!
Don't we look :) 
The blue sky, the sand dunes in the background....Nate looking so serious. 
As you can tell, by this point in our trip, I was completely sunburned! The over 100 degree weather had done me in! So, hence, my face almost matched my pink scarf. Not the most attractive look, but hey. 
Here is where we stayed the night. We had a tent, but the tent wasn't for sleeping. The tour guide cooked in the tent and stored things in there to keep them safe. We slept on the blankets to the left of the tent. Yes, it was a rough night, full of big bugs crawling on us, an extremely uncomfortable hard ground to sleep on, and the hot muggy weather that made me have a headache. I slept in the middle of Nate and Eduardo. They made us each buy 4 huge water bottles to take with us. After about 3 hours of being there, all the water was warm. That is how hot it was. So the entire night and the next morning, we were drinking warm water to stay hydrated. Gross. But we knew our bodies needed the liquid because it was just so hot out. It got so hot that to a point, I felt nauseous. I have never had heat do that to me before. Watching the stars at night was fun though. Because there were no lights around and we were so far from any civilization, the stars were super bright. We watched shooting stars and followed the star patterns as we laid there trying to fall asleep. Before all this happened though, we had a sand storm. It started about 2 hours after we got there. I have never experienced a sand storm before and it wasn't fun. There was sand blowing all around us with fierce winds and we couldn't get out of it! I was so grateful that I had my pink scarf! The scarf helped protect my head and face from the sand and I finally realized why these people wear them living there. It made more logical sense to me. The sand was everywhere though. It got in my eyes,  ears, nose, and mouth. When I would bite down, the sand would crunch between my teeth. Gross. It was hitting against my legs so hard that it hurt. It felt like someone was cutting my leg with sharp little needles. So we all got in the tent and tried to stay protected. It lasted for about an hour and then suddenly, it settled down. What a night!

The worst part for me was going to the bathroom on the sand dunes. It is way harder than it looks! Every time I would go it would run down onto my feet. I just couldn't aim very well. It was hard going on a slanted sand dune! So I went back to the camp with wet feet each time. I couldn't wait to get home and shower and use a real toilet again! 
On our way to the desert, we passed through a couple little villages. I don't even know if you could really call them villages. They were more like just a couple little mud homes here and there that were hand built by these people. We saw people walking around outside by them carrying grass on their heads (like in The Jungle Book Disney movie) kids roaming around by themselves, and people working in their "yard." Some children were selling these little handmade "camels" made out of dried up palm tree leaves. As we were riding, they would walk up to the camel and try to hand them to us. Of course they wanted us to give them some money afterwards. I felt like I couldn't reach them safely enough without falling off of my camel because of leaning down too far. But Nate was able to do it safely without falling off. We got this little camel creation for like 20 cents. I thought it was cute.
It was fun walking around the sand dunes! 
I love the feeling of the sand on my feet and in between my toes. 
Carrying loads of grass to their homes on their heads!
This little girl was wandering all around by herself outside. 
She was probably only around 2. 
The poor camels were tied up so they couldn't escape. As soon as we got off the camels, our tour guide tied up one of their legs with rope. One of the camels was a little agitated and tried everything he could to get the rope off. He was even rolling around on his back in the sand like he was having a tantrum. But the rope was effective because the next morning, the camels were still there where they started. 
Here is a picture late at night when we were having our tea. Yes, having tea again.....
Our tour guide took good care of us by preparing all of the food for us. He made us slow cooked tagine  vegetables and chicken with flat bread. We had warm oranges for dessert. He served the dinner on one big plate and he gave us each a fork. We dove right in and started to eat. The crazy part was when the tour guide started eating his meat. He not only ate the meat off the bones, but he ate the bones along with it. I heard some crunching sounds and looked up, and yes, he was crunching down on the bones. Food is definitely seen differently there than in the US. 
In the US we eat for entertainment and social events and there they eat more for hunger and to get enough energy stored up for their next hard labor activity. 
Here is Nate taking a walk along the sand dunes early in the morning.
Both Eduardo and Nate said that during the night, I was having nightmares about bugs crawling on me. They said I would sit up and start screaming about a bug and frantically be trying to scrape it off of me. I would also scrape my entire sleeping area. They said it was a rough night! :)
The next morning for breakfast, we had more flat bread with apricot jam
and Laughing Cow cheese, and or course, tea.
We all agreed it was probably the grossest breakfast that we have ever had. You couldn't think about the tour guide preparing it either because he never washed his hands. Here he was petting the camels, going to the bathroom, setting up camp, and then.......making our food. :(
They don't know about hand sanitizer there!
We all were a little on the sick side the next day.
Camel foot prints in the sand. 
On our way home after we packed up that morning. I love these shadow pictures. 

Here is a picture of our tour guide. He does this every night for a living and takes a different group of tourists out each night. I am sure that he meets a lot of interesting people! He was so grateful to us when we gave him a tip. These people don't make very much yet they work so hard. He is married and has a family but never gets to be home at night with them which is sad. He is always out doing this tour. Hopefully our tip money helped him out a bit!
We had a great time and experienced so much culture and new ways of life. I felt so grateful to have the opportunity to do and see new things that I had never experienced before. I know I will have great stories to tell my kids someday. 
But.....once was enough for me. I don't think I will be doing this trip again any time soon. :)